But Gordon Brown refuses to give up without a fight
NICK CLEGG threw down the gauntlet to David Cameron earlier today, calling on the Tory leader to prove he could form a government that would act in the national interest.
The Liberal Democrat leader made the overtures shortly after voters woke up to Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974, leaving Westminster in a state of paralysis.
Cameron’s Tories are the biggest party, with BBC projections putting them on course to win 308 seats – 18 short of the 326 needed to govern with an overall commons majority. Labour is set to hold 260 seats, 96 less than it had before the election.
It was a disastrous night for the Lib Dems, who are on course to win 53 seats, nine less than they won at the last election in 2005. In the run up to the election, Britain became gripped by “Cleggmania” and pollsters had expected the party to take almost a hundred extra seats.
Clegg admitted it had been a “disappointing night” for his party and said it was “a great regret to lose some valued friends and colleagues”.
But he sent a clear signal to Cameron that he was willing to enter coalition talks, hinting that he would demand a referendum on electoral reform as his price.
“It seems this morning that it’s the Conservative party that had more votes and more seats but not an absolute majority. And that is why I think it is now for the Conservative party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest,” Clegg said.
He added: “At the same time, this election campaign has made it abundantly clear that our electoral system is broken. I will continue to argue for the extensive, real reforms that we need to fix our political system.”
This afternoon, Cameron was desperately trying to garner enough support to cobble together a majority, insisting he had a plan to provide the UK with “strong and stable government”.
But Gordon Brown holed himself up inside Number 10 and made it clear he would not concede without a fight. His advisers said he would exhaust every possible avenue that would keep him in power before tendering his resignation to the Queen.
Constitutional protocal dictates that the sitting Prime Minister has the first right to try and form a government in the event of a hung parliament.
His colleagues rallied to his defence, with Labour’s general election coordinator Lord Mandelson dismissing calls for his immediate resignation, insisting he couldn’t leave “a vacuum” at the top of government.
A Downing Street spokesman said it was the Prime Minister’s duty to take all steps to ensure the UK had a strong, stable and principled government.
Meanwhile Labour sources said Brown had been in touch with Scottish Nationalists to see if they would be willing to prop him up in an anti-Tory alliance.
Jittery financial markets responded nervously to the news, with gilt yields edging up and sterling falling to its lowest for twelve months.